Good read. I like Malcolm’s style, his curiosity and the gift of looking at ordinary things from an unexpected angle. I have seen him speak several times and he is incredibly intelligent, quick and witty.

In Outliers, Gladwell asserts that success cannot be directly attributed to raw innate talent and it is often a function of hard work and sheer luck. This is not a new argument but he goes a little bit further and says that you need to put in 10,000 hours to become good at anything.

For years, I have been critical of the current hiring practices (see this, for instance) with their propensity to concentrate on irrelevant metrics rather than on the true evaluation of the candidate’s abilitities and attitude. This is not surprising given that hiring decisions  are firmly in the hands of the least paid and least knowledgeable people. Hiring the right person is difficult. Hiring someone based on acronyms and certifications is not and can be easily operationalized.

I wonder if Gladwell’s assertion about the requisite 10,000 hours will be  taken by the HR people as a confirmation for their modus operandi, looking for candidates with an arbitrarily set number of years of experience in this or that, which such a bad indicator of a person’s value. Guy Kawasaki would never get hired at Apple, as an example, in the hands of those who administer hiring today.

Does it mean that Gladwell’s assertion is wrong?

I don’t think so, and here is why:

  • he talks about very high levels of proficiency in complex activities. It does not take 10,000 hours to become good in a new programming language or learn to drive a truck well.
  • 10,000 hours in his definition is 10,000 hours of thoughtful practicing, hard work, analyzing mistakes, correcting them and moving on – not 10,000 hours merely sitting in a cubicle.
  • we acquire knowledge from a variety of sources – someone growing up in a family of boaters will know a whole lot about boats by the time they are 12, without having a shred of “working experience”

I am pretty certain that Outliers will be cited by HR professionals to support their methods … I am also sure not many of them will read it.

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